Pro wrestling fans have never had it better.
There are two top-tier promotions, WWE and AEW, putting out weekly television. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are all destination nights for professional wrestling on TV.
And in between, there’s Impact, ROH, MLW, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Women Of Wrestling. Then there’s NWA Power on YouTube. There has never been more pro wrestling action at our fingertips.
Yet, that doesn’t equate to it being a good time for pro wrestling itself. Viewership numbers are good, but they aren’t exactly numbers indicative of a boom period.
Let’s dive a little deeper and find out why it’s a great time for pro wrestling fans — not so much for pro wrestling.
Viewers And The Wednesday Night Skirmish
For all the hype (and we were as guilty as anyone of perpetuating it), the Wednesday Night War isn’t exactly the clash of the titans most of us thought it’d be.
The weekly pro wrestling battle between AEW: Dynamite and NXT started promising enough. AEW: Dynamite drew 1.4 million viewers as opposed to about 900,000 viewers for NXT. That’s a big deal considering both promotions weren’t generally known among mainstream viewers.
But ratings have dropped for both shows. AEW: Dyamite hovered in the 1.1 million range for weeks two and three while NXT is stuck around 700,000. Again, those are new shows, and a net total of close to 2 million viewers is pretty respectable.
Meanwhile, WWE’s Monday Night Raw earning 2 million viewers for its 3 hours a week on USA usually seems like cause for celebration. And Fox has seen a sharp decline in viewership for Friday Night SmackDown. The Fox premiere drew about 3.8 million viewers. Only 2.9 million came back for the second week, and this past week’s episode dropped to about 2.4 million.
As reported by The Wrap, the third week of SmackDown on Fox was the lowest-rated “big four” show on Friday night.
So at best, there are around 2 million eyeballs for the taking in the pro wrestling universe.
Compare that to the Monday Night Wars, where WWE and WCW were fighting for around 10 million viewers on one night a week.
AEW Is Nothing New
For all the bravado and hype from and about All Elite Wrestling (again, guilty), the wrestling world is pretty much the same as it was three weeks ago.
From a storytelling and in-ring perspective, the pro wrestling world is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago.
AEW came out of the gates in January with Cody Rhodes essentially promising to “change the world.” He promised a “revolution.”
Now, on a small scale, AEW succeeded. It succeeded in excelling at what pro wrestling can and should be — the advancement of ongoing interpersonal storylines through predetermined wrestling matches.
That’s great for guys like me and pro wrestling fans in general who just wanted something NXT-like on a larger scale. It’s a product specifically made and constructed to satisfy the lapsed or jaded wrestling fan.
But it isn’t the kind of formula that’s going to draw in new viewers. Just like the post-Disney world of Star Wars, AEW shines a light on the fact that there simply isn’t much you can do with pro wrestling that’s new and exciting. As Star Wars has a set number of people who are going to be happy with just enough of the things they recognize, so does pro wrestling.
Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, X-wings, and the Millennium Falcon are going to satisfy the millions who were already there. And smart booking, good matches, and stable storytelling are going to satisfy the millions who were already there and already wanted that.
AEW is not a pro wrestling revolution. It’s a fresh coat of paint on an old tank.
What’s It Going To Take?
The problem across both WWE and AEW is that they’re trying to manufacture a boom period for pro wrestling.
Give fans the illusion that things are new and different, and you’ll keep them.
We referenced the Monday Night Wars earlier. That boom period for pro wrestling was a perfect storm. A genuine, organic confluence of events.
It was the combination of the New World Order making WCW Nitro edgier, must-see TV. Which forced WWE to up the ante and produce even edgier must-see TV. You had the career Renaissance of Hulk Hogan in WCW pitted against the rise of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and the Rock in WWE.
These were things that just happened and that pro wrestling fans responded to.
WWE came as close as possible to listening to the fans and allowing the organic rise of Becky Lynch in late 2018 and early 2019. But any chance they had to carry it too far out of their comfort zone was squandered.
What’s it going to take for pro wrestling to have another boom period? It’s going to take something that makes a huge impression on the fans that are already there that will translate to the masses.
And while I’m loving AEW, big-time pro wrestling is a corporate, committee-run product. They’ll take chances, but not too many chances. WWE and AEW will keep things safe, but not too safe.
The thing that’ll make pro wrestling a commodity that attracts 10 million distinct people a week is out of pro wrestling’s control.
Both AEW and WWE are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
In the current cable and broadcast marketplace, 2 million viewers is pretty respectable. But it’s not a boom for pro wrestling.
Ultimately, it was the fans who created this boom period in their minds. And now that it isn’t here, the Internet Wrestling Community decries how they’ve been duped.
But nobody was swindled, nobody was tricked. We got what we asked for. High profile pro wrestling three nights a week (plus pay-per-views), indy-style wrestling the rest of the week.
Pro wrestling fans have what they always wanted. And that should be enough. It is enough. It’s more than enough.
If you really want it to change, stop tuning in. Since that won’t happen, embrace that there’s never been a better time to be a pro wrestling fan.
Just don’t assume that equals a great time for pro wrestling.
Feature image courtesy of WWE.